Each new school year brings with it new challenges, but for colleges and universities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is particularly different.
Security is always a priority for educational institutions, and the sudden need to enforce social distancing or facilitate remote learning forced many to embrace new technologies this past year.
With vaccine distribution accelerating and the reopening of the country growing near, now is the perfect time for schools to take stock of what has worked over the past year, and how they can move forward to successfully secure their campuses in 2021.
Modern cameras serve a wide range of functions
Surveillance cameras have helped secure colleges and universities for decades, but today’s internet protocol (IP) cameras far outpace traditional analog cameras. No longer limited to the visual spectrum, these cameras can be equipped with modern innovations like thermal monitoring, radar detection, and extreme low-light visibility.
PTZ cameras—so named for their ability to pan, tilt, and zoom—can automatically shift to focus on suspicious activity, giving security teams a more complete picture of what is actually happening.
In the past, surveillance cameras have helped security teams respond to incidents after the fact by providing a record of events after they have occurred.
Today’s cameras are increasingly capable of helping schools respond to security incidents in near-real-time, thanks to modern artificial intelligence technology that can be trained to raise an alarm when suspicious or dangerous activity is detected.
With COVID-19 still a major concern, modern cameras can also assist with enforcing social distancing. They can be programmed to raise an alert when large groups begin to form, and can also be used to assist with contact tracing after an infection becomes known.
Advanced audio is on the rise
Advanced audio solutions are growing increasingly common as a complement to video surveillance. Audio solutions can be trained to listen for specific sounds, such as breaking glass, raised voices, or gunshots. Like their video counterparts, these solutions can dramatically decrease response time by raising alerts to security personnel in real time as events unfold.
In some cases, detecting raised voices may enable security personnel to intervene before the situation can escalate. In other cases, audio can add helpful context to a situation: what looks like a fight on camera might be revealed to harmless horseplay if the audio reveals that both parties are laughing.
Audio is also an effective complement to low-light cameras, adding another tool to help detect incidents in low visibility situations. After hours, the sound of voices or breaking glass represent clear indicators that a security incident is taking place.
In response, the system can be programmed to alert the appropriate authorities, but it might also trigger a pre-programmed audio warning letting the intruders know that they are on camera and being recorded as evidence. This is often enough to send would-be burglars running for the hills.
This intercom technology can be deployed in other ways as well, such as letting students know they are approaching an emergency exit. Amid the pandemic, it might also be used to tell students to disperse if too many are gathered in one place.
Identifying the right solutions for the right situations
The need to enforce COVID-19 restrictions and keep students, faculty, and staff safe amid the pandemic has resulted in many schools embracing new security solutions; however, it is important to remember that many of these solutions have benefits that extend far beyond the pandemic.
Video solutions used to enforce social distancing and enable contact tracing can also be used to identify security incidents as they happen. Audio solutions capable of detecting coughing or other signs of distress can also detect breaking glass, gunshots, and more.
Today’s highly adaptable security solutions can help keep schools secure now, and far into the future.
Bruce A. Canal is the segment business development manager for education for Axis Communications, Inc. He was formerly the director of physical security for the Orange County Public School District in Orlando.